Medieval History Curriculum

I have been advocating the following history curriculum for four years of high school, and here I would like to recommend resources for Medieval History.

(1)  Ancient History (Ancient Near East, Greece, Rome, early church)
(2)  Medieval History (Christendom through the Reformation)
(3)  Modern European History (Reformation through the present)
(4)  American History

Medieval History

Medieval history is almost completely neglected in modern education. Its very title “Middle Ages” suggests it was a time between the more important ancient and modern worlds (medieval is a combination of the Latin for "Middle Ages,” medium aevum). But this was a pejorative label given by those of the Renaissance era. The period (and more specifically 300 to 1000 A.D.) is often mischaracterized as “the Dark Ages,” though this could not be further from the truth. Much of significance happened during the medieval period, including the rise of the university and the formation of distinct European nations.

My assessment is that medieval history is neglected today because it is actually a period of church history. It was the age of European Christendom, and it is no surprise that secularists want to ignore such a period of history. But this period cannot be ignored by any student of history. And it cannot be ignored by anyone who wants to truly understand the political, social, and religious context of our modern world.

In spite of the labels, there is no exact day or year where a civilization drastically changes from “ancient” to “medieval.” These are markers that historians use to divide historical periods for the sake of convenience. There is therefore disagreement over the exact dates of medieval history. Some medieval historians begin the period around 300 A.D. because of the conversion of Emperor Constantine to Christianity in 312 A.D. Others mark the beginning of the medievial period around 500 A.D because of the “official” date of the fall of Rome in 476 A.D. This latter date is problematic in that the eastern half of the Roman Empire (Byzantium) survived for almost another 1,000 years. Either 300 or 500 A.D. can work, and it is best to simply start your study of medieval history where you finished your study of ancient history.

Marking where medieval history ends is more difficult, as a case can be made that the medieval worldview lasted up until the Industrial Revolution of the 1800s. But for convenience sake, medieval history usually ends around 1500, right before the start of the Protestant Reformation. This breaks medieval history into the following periods:

Early Middle Ages (300/500–1000 A.D.)
High Middle Ages (1000–1300 A.D.)
Late Middle Ages (1300–1500 A.D.)

Medieval history should be an exciting study for students. It was an influential period for Western civilization, as it gave rise to both the modern church and European nation-states. The early middle ages witnessed the fall of the Western Roman Empire and the rise of new powers, such as the Franks under the rule of Charlemagne. Europe was further Christianized over the years, and most of the barbarians converted to Christianity. But Europe soon had to deal with Islam, which rapidly grew in power in the 7th and 8th centuries. The high middle ages witnessed the split of the Catholic and Orthodox churches (1054), the Crusades (1095–1204), and the rise of the university (1200s). The late middle ages included the Renaissance and other events that set the stage for the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century. 

Medieval History for Children

One of the best resources for teaching children history is Susan Wise Bauer’s series for grades 1–6 called The Story of the World: History for the Classical Child. Volume 2 is titled The Middle Ages: From the Fall of Rome to the Rise of the Renaissance. There is also an activity book and a test and answer key. Bauer also covers ancient history (volume 1) and modern Europe and America (volume 3 and volume 4). 




Medieval History for High School (and Beyond)

Hopefully students will already have some familiarity with medieval history by the time they get to high school. Regardless, high school is a time for in-depth study of the medieval period. If ancient history is studied around 9th grade, medieval history can be studied around 10th grade.

As mentioned before, there are video resources covering Western civilization from Roman Roads Media and Ron Paul Homeschool. Ron Paul offers two Western civilization courses, which can both be purchased individually from Tom Woods Homeschool. To the right is a sample video lesson. Liberty Classroom also offers access to number of good history courses for only $90 per year. They are aimed at adults, but they can also be used by intelligent high schoolers. The first Western civilization course covers ancient and medieval history. 

Books work well as a supplement to video lessons. There are many older books on medieval history. Unfortunately, many of them are hard to find and therefore quite expensive. The books listed here should at least serve as a good start for surveying this time period.

Western Civilization by Jackson Spielvogel. This college-level history textbook can be used at the high school level. It systematically covers all of Western civilization, including medieval history. As a hardcover book that covers most of history, it is a worthwhile purchase. They also sell a two-volume softcover set. Volume 2 is expensive, so it is only a better price if you do plan on covering modern Europe. Volume 1 is cheaper but does not go past 1715. 

The Story of Christianity: The Early Church to the Dawn of the Reformation (Volume 1) by Justo Gonzalez. This is a church history book and not specifically a medieval history book. But since medieval history basically is church history until 1500 A.D., you might as well just read this book. It covers from the early church to the Reformation. It packs in a lot of information, but it is readable and well organized. Gonzalez occasionally says things I do not agree with theologically, but you just have to deal with this when reading history books. I strongly recommend this and volume 2 on modern church history. 

The History of the Medieval World: From the Conversion of Constantine to the First Crusade by Susan Wise Bauer. This is the adult version of Bauer’s children book mentioned above. The difference here is that she splits medieval history into two books, with this volume covering early medieval history, from Constantine’s conversion in 312 A.D. to the first Crusade in 1095. This is a true “world history,” as she includes non-Western cultures. It is a long work (667 pages).

 

The History of the Renaissance World: From the Rediscovery of Aristotle to the Conquest of Constantinople by Susan Wise Bauer. This is Bauer’s second book on medieval history, covering the high and late middle ages, from 1000 to around 1500 A.D. Again, this is a long work (681 pages).

 

 

Western Society and the Church in the Middle Ages by R.W. Southern. This book focuses on the medieval church from around 700 to 1500 A.D.